It is time to make long-term decisions. I wanted to finally settle down. I’ve had enough of living out of a 25-kilo backpack allowed to be taken on a plane. On the one hand, the world is open for you, you travel light. But on the other hand, you are always naked, every time in a new place you have to start from scratch. But is it possible to have a home but not be tied down to one particular place? And not to spend a fortune on this home? Yes, there is a way which I am going to describe to you now. I will tell you how I managed to find cheap accommodation in a place where I will always have perfect conditions for doing all the things and activities I love.
My home is a cozy studio with a shower, a toilet, a wardrobe, a dining table for four, a one-and-a-half and a double bed, a gas cooker, a fridge, gas heating, several outward storage places for my equipment and lots of shelves and stuff.
The address is somewhere in Europe, at least most of the time. My home has four wheels, powerful Iveco engine, a body clean of rust, chassis from Fiat and number plates from Germany. Unfortunately, equipped in this way my home can’t sail across seas, drive across countries without roads and enter the territories of the Russian Fedeation and Belarus (If I don’t take into account ferries and complicated schemes of entering the Customs Union by a Russian citizen on a EU vehicle). That is why my freedom is limited. I live in my home somewhere between Norway and Morocco, Spain and Turkey. And I am not greedy, I am thinking about how long this home is going to be enough for me, taking into account the opportunity of sometimes going out of it:)
How I chose the form
I wanted to devote more or even most of my time to my favourite things and activities. It happens so that either kayaking, or rock-climbing, or freediving require constant migration hunting the right weather conditions, the right season, the right water, seas and companies of like-minded people. So that left me with several variants.
1) To rent accommodation in a place where I wanted to be at that very moment. As a result I would face huge rental expenses and lots of money for flying/going to the new place with all the equipment plus lack of mobility and no chance of quickly altering plans because of the weather or my physical condition.
2) To buy a cheap car in Europe and stay in campings/ airbnb / hostels. This plan is much more workable, but still I would have to spend money on accommodation every day. Moreover this plan is very inconvenient taking into consideration the amount of equipment I’ll constantly need to carry around. And the feeling of roaming and tramping and not having a home of my own is not the one I’d love to experience. I have already lived though this in Israel.
3) To buy a minivan in Russia and remake it into a simple motorhome. This variant opens up the biggest number of countries for you and it is by far the simplest for the documents and stuff, but it has one major drawback. It is really expensive, and I just couldn’t afford it.
4) To buy a car or a minivan and a full-trailer in Europe. It is a great variant! But I don’t know where you can leave the trailer even for 1 day when you don’t need it. And this variant also means more problems when you stay overnight somewhere else than in a camping site.
Finally I decided to buy a camper van in Germany and register it there. Before that I had never been inside a camper van and had known about vehicle registration in Germany as much as a couple of lines from Vinsky forum.
How I chose and bought it
With the help of mobile.de website I found out that you can really buy a 15-year-old camper van in good condition for no more than 15000 Euros. I wanted to buy a well-functioning, neither rotten, nor rusty camper van made in 1998 or later. The most important features for me were a shower, a toilet, heating, enough space for storing my equipment, an opportunity to travel with 4 passengers minimum and not more than 100 horsepowers. I decided not to waste time on online searches and flew to Munich and stayed there at a friend’s place for a week. On my first day… It’s more correct to say in the first evening there I got totally drunk with Bayern beer, because local guys didn’t let me do anything without following through this tradition first!
On the next day I listed potentially interesting camper vans, the owners of which I wanted to talk to. I used the mobile.de (80%) and caraworld.de (20%) websites. Ebay.de and autoscout24.de turned out to be useless as far as camper vans are concerned. I limited my search area of privately owned camper vans with 180 km around Munich and allowed 1 day for visiting the biggest car dealer near Nurenberg. At the same time I got a Munich registration which any tourist can do.
On the second day I started to call private owners of camper vans making a plan of visiting them in the text three days. On that day I also went to see a couple of vans there in Munich. It is worth mentioning that 80% of camper vans from my list were located in small villages all around Germany.
On the third day with the help of the magic document of Munich registration I was able to open a bank account. On the same day I completed the list of interesting offers of camper vans. It contained about 10 classical alcove type camper vans (with a sleeping place above the cab) on Fiat Ducato base produced in 1998-2002 and also several built-in motorhomes (outside those cars look like ordinary mini-vans with small windows, but inside they look like real but quite cramped campers) on VW LT, Mercedes Sprinter, Fiat Ducato bases (the same as Peugeot Boxer and Citroen Jumper).
On the fourth day I went to see the dealer. In one day I managed to look at almost 50 camper-vans and my knowledge of the subject increased greatly, although the staff was totally unwilling to consult me and explain anything, as well as let me have a test drive. At first the process of looking at camper vans was really slow, but then it picked up speed. You shouldn’t start with either the body, or the living space. You should always look at the bottom and the chassis first. 70% of vans I looked at had rusty side bars, bottoms, sills and doors. All “integrated” campers in my price bracket (in the minivan body) turned out to be rusty all over, because they had been driven on far more, so they all have more operational kilometers. So finally there were only 4 vehicles left out of 50, and those 4 also left much to be desired (they were either too big and high or without the top trunk).
On the fifth day I had a tour of private camper van owners. They always give you the vehicle for a test drive and are ready to negotiate the price sometimes even reducing it by up to 30%! Having looked at 6 camper vans and having travelled about 500 km I went to sleep and woke up the next morning with a ready-made decision. I bargained a bit and bought a camper van from one of the private owners I had visited.
In a couple of days I bought insurance and registered it being only a tourist in Germany and having a registration document of Munich.
So what will happen next?
Now I am the owner of a comfortable motorhome which will become the basis for my favourite activities. I am inviting friends to join me in my tours for free now. For example:
Kayaking: you watch a weather forecast, choose cheap plane tickets, fly to Europe, I meet you in the airport (there are variants of flying without your kayak). We together go kayaking in one of the regions of the Alps. We live and cook in my camper van. We go to collect the camper van from put-ins by bikes, which we can attach to the back of the camper. There are 3-4 comfortable places for sleeping inside the van, but there is a logical requirement to those staying in the van: you should look after yourself and clean after yourself.
Rock-climbing: It’s really easy – get cheap tickets on sale and fly without much preparation and planning!
Freediving: Italy, Spain, Greece, Croatia – there are lots of spots but in summer only!
I plan to visit the Check Republic and Poland in August, Austria, Germany and Switzerland in September and October, Italy, Spain and Portugal in winter.
Guests and mates are always welcome! I am going to organize info according to my plans, current location and free places in the camper van. If you want to follow me, just put a like on my groups in Facebook and VKontakte.